Esther 3:1, Question 3. Why does the verse mention three things Achashverosh performed for Haman?

  • The Vilna Gaon explains that there were three things Achashverosh performed for Haman; he made him great by making him financially wealthy, he elevated his by giving him more authority, and he gave his a higher seat in that his advice had superiority over that of Achashverosh’s other advisers.
  • The Yalkut Shimoni (1053) and M’nos HaLevi say that these three actions indicate that Achashverosh gradually gave Haman new powers every day. The Yalkut Shimoni actually goes on to say that Haman eventually had even more power than the king, Achashverosh building for him a throne even higher than his own. Rav Avie Gold points out that the gematria of Haman (5+40+50=95) is equal to that of “hamelech,” (“the king”) (5+40+30+20=95), implying that they became equal to each other. Furthermore, the gematria of Haman’s entire given name here, Haman son of Hemdasa the Aggagite, (5+40+50+2+50+5+40+ 4+400+1+5+1+3+3+10=619) is one less than “kesser,” (“crown”) (20+400+200), implying that he was just within reach of the royalty he desired.
  • The Malbim points out that Haman’s gradual ascent to power is similar to what Yosef tells his brothers (Bereishis 45:8) regarding the three steps of his promotion. The Alshich explains the reason for this (in both cases, perhaps) is that king did not want his others advisers to harbor jealousy toward the new “upstart.”
  • Perhaps another reason for this gradual elevation is that Achashverosh, himself, was not a product of royalty, but was a self-made man, and felt that this was the proper way for somebody to advance.
  • The Vilna Gaon points out that this reference to the “king,” is, again, H-Shem. In His Wisdom, H-Shem elevated this wicked man in order to provide the platform for the Purim miracle.

Esther 3:1, Question 2. Why does the king promote Haman?

  • Apparently basing itself on the idea that King here refers to H-Shem, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:1) cites a verse in Tehillim (37:20) to relate that H-Shem allowed for Haman to be elevated only in order for his fall to be all-the-more steep and painful. There is a parable told there of a horse, a donkey, and a pig. The farmer feeds the donkey and horse a limited amount, and feeds the pig without measure. One day, the horse asks the donkey, “We do actual work, yet are fed less. This is not fair!” The wise donkey tells the horse to be patient and realize that the pig is not well-fed for its own good, but to be fattened up to be eaten by the farmer.
  • In the next Midrash (ibid. 7:2) a story is told of a king who felt it beneath his dignity to kill a peasant, so he promotes him in order to execute him without degrading himself. Such is the case with Haman, made great only to be cut down the more painfully.
  • The Chida calculates that Haman was at the peak of his power for a total of seventy days. He sent out the letters to kill the Jews on the 13th of Nisan. Seventy days later, on the 23rd of Sivan, Mordechai sent out the letters for the Jews to rescue themselves. Similarly, there are seventy verses between this verse where Haman is elevated and the verse where Haman is hanged (7:10).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, by elevating Haman, H-Shem was rewarding him for his advice to rid the world of the evil Vashti.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman was elevated at this point as a consequence for King Shaul’s (Mordechai and Esther’s ancestor) misdirected kindness in keeping Agag (Haman’s ancestor) alive.
  • Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (21) writes that Haman’s elevation is a reward for Agag’s sincere prayer when he was locked up in prison, awaiting his death. Because of this evil man’s last prayer, a ruler was destined to come from him, as is alluded to in the verse (Bamidbar 24:7), “and He raised from Agag his kingship.” Based on this, the Ginzei HaMelech asks, how could Haman, a thoroughly evil man only in power for 70 days, be considered a reward? He answers that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) teaches that Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah in Bnei Brak, truly a reward for anybody.
  • The Maharal writes that Haman is rewarded here instead of Mordechai because the righteous generally are not rewarded with wealth in this world, but accrue reward in the World to Come.
  • Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin cites Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak in the Talmud (Megillah 11a), who applies the verse in Tehillim (124:2) that discusses H-Shem rescuing us from a man to the Purim story. Since kings have not free will of their own, he continues, H-Shem needed to elevate a man – since free will is the mark of humanity – to this position from which he could threaten the Jewish people. It is a bigger miracle that Pesach in that way because Pharaoh’s heart was Divinely hardened. Haman, on the other hand, could make his own decisions, and chose evil all the same.
  • The Vilna Gaon tells us that if Haman is Memuchan (as asserted before), the human king had reason to reward him, as well. After all, it was Haman who advised that Vashti should be removed. First, this advice allowed the king to marry Esther. Second, Esther helped save the king’s life from the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:21).
  • But if the motivation to elevate Haman came from Achashverosh for this, why did he not reward Mordechai? The Tirosh Vayitz’har writes that Achashverosh was unsure about Mordechai’s intention. Perhaps he was a part of the plot, after all. The only one he was sure of was Esther, so he rewarded her by elevating the man whose advice led to her being queen.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that, after surviving the assassination attempt, Achashverosh realized that he was at risk – especially from Haman – and knew that he needed to keep him close by. As the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • This is the exact opposite view from Chacham Tzvi, whose opinion is that Achashverosh mistrusted Haman and thought he conspired together with Esther to kill him. However, once Esther reported the assassination plot in Mordechai’s name – Mordechai being Haman’s arch rival – Achashverosh (thought he) knew that Haman was loyal.
  • According to the Malbim, the king simply forgot about Mordechai completely.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz notes that it makes little logical sense for Mordechai to have been so passed over, and instead condemned to die along with the other Jews. After all, he saved the king’s life when he had no need to. Therefore, this verse is yet another proof that it is impossible to understand the Purim story – or even Jewish history, in general – without the understanding that H-Shem miraculously protects His beloved people.

Esther 2:1, Question 2. Why does the verse imply that Achashverosh’s anger was not calmed?

  • Similar to yesterday’s post, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 5:2) points out that the verse says “kisoch” (“like it was calmed”) instead of “bisoch” (“it was calmed”), implying that Achashverosh’s anger was not completely calmed. This anger will show its ugly head again towards the end of Megillas Esther once the king applies it to Haman, as it says “and the king’s anger was calmed” (7:10).
  • According to Targum Sheini, Achashverosh was not angry with Vashti, but with the advisers who allowed for her to be removed. He therefore had them killed. If so, how do the rabbis reconcile this with the opinion that Memuchan, the adviser who originates the plan to kill Vashti, was Haman (see previous posts), who is clearly alive later in the story? V’zos L’Yehudah states that Achashverosh decided that a quick death was too good for Haman, and that he should be kept around – even elevated – to lull him into a false sense of security, and should then be cut down all the more tragically.
  • The Aruchas Tamid answers that Memuchan was actually hanged along with the other advisers, but miraculously fell from the gallows alive and Persian law did not allow for a condemned criminal to hang twice for the same crime. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss points out that this is yet another example of a miracle needed to bring the Purim story to fruition.

Esther 2:1, Question 1. After what, exactly, did the following take place?

פרק ב

א אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כְּשֹׁךְ חֲמַת הַמֶּלֶךְ אַֽחֲשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ זָכַר אֶתוַשְׁתִּי וְאֵת אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂתָה וְאֵת אֲשֶׁרנִגְזַר עָלֶיהָ

Chapter 2

1. After these things, when the anger of the king was like it was calmed, Achashverosh remembered Vashti, and what she did, and what was decreed against her.

In the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 5:2) there is a dispute regarding the word, “achar” (“after”). One view, that of R’ Ivo, states that it indicates immediacy, whereas the view of the Rabbis is that it indicates the passage of a significant amount of time. For our purposes, these two views allow for Achashverosh’s anger to be either natural or miraculous. If it were natural, it would take a long time for his anger to subside. If it were miraculous, then H-Shem would take away the anger as soon as it served its purpose of ridding Achashverosh of Vashti.

Esther 1:7, Question 3. What does the phrase “kiyad hamelech” “like the king’s reach” come to add to the sentence?

  • Achashverosh, having a large kingdom, had a large “stretch” – an ability to get lots of different kinds of wine. Class participant RG points out that this would further stroke the king’s ego.
  • The Sfas Emes suggests that Achashverosh, always conscious of his surroundings, would typically only drink enough wine to keep himself from being tipsy. That way, he would be restrained from giving away state secrets. The fact that he drank more in this instance is another hidden, miraculous event that led to saving of the Jews in Persia.